A landscaper police believe to be a serial killer who murdered at least five men is feared to have hidden remains of victims across his Canadian city in a case with eerie similarities to a Stephen King horror story.
The Lawnmower Man tells the story of homeowner murdered by the man he hired to cut his grass. The short story, first published in 1975, ends as police try to collect the victim’s remains, which are strewn across the backyard and in a birdbath.
More than four decades later, police in Toronto have found themselves tasked with the real-life horror of identifying the victims of a suspected serial killer whose alleged crimes resemble that of the "Lawnmower Man.”
On Jan. 18, Bruce McArthur, 66, was charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the killings of 44-year-old Selim Esen and 49-year-old Andrew Kinsman, two gay men who disappeared last year.
Esen and Kinsman were last seen alive in Toronto’s Gay Village district, and investigators assigned to probe their disappearances narrowed in on McArthur as a suspect.
Before McArthur’s arrest, police searched his home on Thorncliffe Park and property on Mallory Crescent belonging to an elderly couple that McArthur used to store his landscaping equipment.
“I simply couldn’t think. I was so horrified,” said Karen Fraser, who along with her husband, Ron Smith, allowed McArthur to keep his equipment in their garage in exchange for free yard work.
“Every aspect was more horrifying, and I just — it was really hard to take,” Fraser told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. after police reportedly worked to thaw the frozen ground so they could excavate. Fraser and Smith were not charged with any crime.
Last Monday, McArthur was hit with three additional counts of first-degree murder in the killings of men whose disappearances can be traced back to 2012.
Majeed Kayhan, 58, was reported missing in October 2012, while 50-year-old Saroush Mahmudi was reported missing in August 2015. Dean Lisowick, 47, was never reported missing, but police believe he was murdered between May 2016 and July 2017, officials said.
Investigators have so far uncovered the dismembered remains of at least three individuals from the backyard of the Mallory Crescent home.
The remains, which have not yet been identified, were found hidden in the bottom of large planters in the backyard, Det. Hank Idsinga told reporters.
Authorities believe it possible that McArthur may have hidden other victims in the same way, or buried them in the lawns he tended for work.
“We’ve seized quite a few planters from around the city and we’ll continue to do that,” Idsinga said. “There are at least two sites that we do want to excavate, where people might be buried, we just don’t know yet.”
Police are investigating at least 30 properties that McArthur worked on
“We do believe there are more and I have no idea how many more there are going to be,” Idsinga said.
He said they’re investigating open cases going back to at least 2010 and urged anyone who hired McArthur in the past who police have not spoken with to come forward.
“The city of Toronto has never seen anything like this, so it is very tiring and very draining for everyone who’s involved,” he said. “The resources being thrown at it? Everything we have. I’d call it an unprecedented type of investigation.... We’ve never seen anything quite like this with the number of crime scenes we have.”
Police have not publicly identified a motive or the causes of death for those found, as the case is under a court-ordered publication ban.
Of McArthur, Idsinga said: “[He’s] a serial killer … and he’s taken some steps to cover his tracks, and we have to uncover these victims and identify these victims and hopefully get some closing news for the families of these victims.”
McArthur, who is reportedly believed to have been romantically involved with Kinsman, was a fixture of the Gay Village. Public records show he married a woman when he was 35 and together they have a son and daughter. He is also a grandfather.
In 2001, McArthur was convicted of assault with a weapon after attacking a male sex worker with a metal pipe in the Gay Village. He was banned from the area for two years and ordered not to possess amyl nitrates, or “poppers,” which can work as a muscle relaxant and is sometimes taken before sex," according to court papers obtained by the Toronto Star. He was also ordered to attend anger management classes.
Police arrested McArthur on Jan. 18 after watching a man enter his apartment. Inside, they found the man tied to McArthur’s bed, according to the Global News. He has not been charged in that incident.
Idsinga said the case has expanded, telling reporters: “The last two victims we’ve identified don’t quite fit the profile of the earlier victims... it encompasses more than the gay community, it encompasses the city of Toronto.”
McArthur is due in court on Feb. 14.